You have a very narrow view of aerospace if you think its most important product is launch vehicles, or that the only design goal worth mentioning is raw power.
Not at all, I'm well aware of the advancements in satellite technology because I work directly in that field (and, FWIW, 90's era processors are still considered state-of-the-art in some contexts) - but my original contention was this: "[Apollo] was arguably the pinnacle of manned space capability and we still haven't matched it with modern systems." It's irrefutably true - the only manned system that's even operational as of today (Soyuz) literally predates even the Apollo program.
That's a false premise: costs did come down. Even the Delta IV heavy - widely regarded as badly overpriced compared to its contemporaries - is about 30% cheaper to launch on a per-ton basis than the Saturn V ever was.
Sure, but Delta IV isn't man-rated, so it better be cheaper than Saturn V. And, even if it was, a 30% decrease really is a pittance, especially considering that the capability is much lower. What's more, the Delta IV is a commercial operation, while Saturn V was a no-expense-spared national prestige program - you would think it ought to be dramatically cheaper by comparison. Of course, it isn't fair to compare to computers, because Moore's Law growth is unprecedented in any industry and we've never seen that kind of growth anywhere else, but if we looked to airliners which are more comparable, this would be like having intercontinental flights in the 70's, and today we can only fly cross-country, but still have to pay 70% of the original price. Pretty tepid "advancement".
As for SpaceX... what they've done is quite amazing.
Their internal technical capabilities aren't as far ahead of their competitors as the external results make it appear though: they're "standing on the shoulders of giants".
I totally agree. They haven't innovated technically as much as they've innovated with the economics of spaceflight. The development costs for their vehicles are peanuts. This might be because they've taken a page out of agile software development - start with a poorly optimized, bare minimum launcher (the original Merlin engine and Falcon 9 had pretty miserable performance compared to today) and iterate to get successively better. As well, in a sense they've done something "Apple-esque", in terms of taking existing hardware that isn't groundbreaking, but integrating it in a much more effective way than prior companies have done. And, they've had a very different motivation - in the short term for ULA or any of the entrenched launch providers, lowering costs means that you lose money, because the launch market is small enough and slow moving enough that it will take a while for demand to ramp up and for increased volume to make up for your lower per-launch cost. Which is why the launch industry has been more or less stagnant for 50 years. You need someone commercial, and who can look past the next 5-10 years of profits - we haven't gotten it until Musk and Bezos.
The problem with that, is that currently the technology does not exist to build a self-sustaining colony anywhere but on Earth, even with cheap space launch.
I think this is the classic "if you build it, they will come" scenario. You couldn't start a software company in 1970, and you can't start an orbital tourism company today. The hope is, cheap launch capability will bring these companies out of the woodwork, and it really ought to be a separate venture from launch, because ideally colonization hardware should be vehicle-agnostic. Personally, I think in the short term, orbital tourist stations could be a lot more lucrative than Mars - how many people would spend $20k for a 2-week space vacation in LEO, vs spending $200k for a multi-year (or one way) voyage to Mars? Either way, those prices are decades away, but I expect the order of magnitude difference between them will remain indefinitely, and I bet you there will always be more than 10x as many LEO travelers as Mars travelers.